Are you Queer Enough?
This is a question that sometimes creeps into my head. I see so many in the queer movement actively trying to break down this idea of ‘enough.’ Yes! You’re (queer, trans, pan, gay, grey…) enough. But…am I really?
Recently, I went to a party with my partner. It was basically what you’d imagine a seemingly straight, white, cis, upper-middle class, coupled up party would look like. In crept a familiar feeling – I don’t belong here. But no one would have guessed that. There I was in my orange floral dress, pink lipstick, femme as can be. If it weren’t for my girlfriend’s arm wrapped around me, I’m sure many could have easily assumed my husband would arrive any minute. After some time, a new person arrived and they looked…well…queer. My partner noted that she felt more relaxed and I agreed. “What if I walked into the party and you didn’t know me,” I asked, “would you feel more relaxed?” I already knew her answer and I couldn’t blame her.
This is the conundrum that I face as a straight-passing person. A part of me feels like I don’t belong in straight spaces and part of me feels like I don’t belong in queer spaces. And this is largely influenced by how I imagine I am perceived. Many years ago, I walked into queer spaces with my buzzed head, loose fitting jeans, flannel over an Ani Difranco tee, and I was in the club. But nowadays, it’s like I forgot my membership card as I’m pleading with the bouncer, trying to prove my queer track record.
When I have been in hetero relationships I felt like I didn’t deserve to use the term queer. Looking back, that probably didn’t do anyone any good. I easily hid away and let others use what I thought of as the honorary identity. While doing that, I also let others who don’t have a choice in the matter do the work for queer rights.
I feel sad and frustrated by the ways in which we judge others. And I’m not exempt from it. Whenever I meet someone new I’m scanning to assess if they’re safe. I’m embarrassed about my social conditioning to make assumptions based on stereotypes.
So what do we do with this? Eliminating our perceptions about others is an unlikely goal – but perhaps we can break down the stereotypes. Maybe someone at that party took a second look at my partner and me (two easily perceived femmes) and reconsidered their image of what queer looks like.
It’s easy for me to hide in my privilege, and the reality is I probably do this more often than I’m even aware. Sometimes I wonder if I should cut my hair short again, make myself present more queer. And then I wonder if that’s just a way for me to bypass the work, tell myself I’m doing my part while hiding behind my appearance. For now, I think there are better ways that I can use my privilege to make a statement. And who am I kidding, I do love my short hair and still like to whip out the flannel every now and again.
What does queer mean anyway?
The definition of queer originally meant abnormal or strange and has been used as a derogatory term. The word has been reclaimed by many (influenced by the black feminist movement) as a way to include identities that go outside of the binany, white, heteronormative script. Queer theory confronts the idea that we are solid beings with a fixed identity.
Queer (transitive verb) – To resist and challenge the “normative” ideals, identities, and institutions.
We could spend a lot of time coming up with a checklist as a way to qualify someone’s queerness. But perhaps queer cannot so easily be solidified. What if we instead asked to have a conversation and together explored “what does queer mean to you?”
Personally, queer includes my fluid identity as a pansexual cis woman who is polyamorous and kinky. But furthermore, it expresses my commitment to question, to engage with the world, to examine uncertainty within myself, and to continuously come back with an open heart.
Are you queer enough?
If you feel queer, then yes, you are enough. Even if you’re just beginning to question heteronormativity and your identity, you are valid.
And, perhaps, we could all further queer our thoughts, speech, and actions. While our outward expression may give a perception and can be a powerful way to confront gender norms – queerness can go beyond what meets the eye.
Whether you identify as heterosexual, queer, or something else, there are lots of ways you can queer up your life. If you’re unsure where to start, here are a few suggestions:
Queer your sex by challenging the PIV (penis in vagina) norm. Pro tip – queer sex will blow your mind.
Queer your speech by sharing your pronouns when meeting new people (not just when you’re unsure of someone’s pronouns because really, when are you ever sure?). If you don’t share, consider your reasoning behind that. Additionally, try opting out of gendered language. For example, switch “ladies and gentleman” and “men and women” to “folks”, “everyone”, “ya’ll”, or other gender neutral terms.
Queer your relationships by examining the monogamous heteronormative narrative you’ve been handed (and it’s ok if that’s what you consciously subscribe to).
Queer your body by expressing yourself with clothing, hair, accessories, and makeup that YOU want to wear (or not wear). And while doing that, consider the cultural implications (you can read about cultural appropriation here: https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/).
Queer your gender by examining what gender means to you. It’s ok to be a cisgender person. It’s also ok to be a transgender person. If you’re a cisgender person, have you thought about what makes you cis? Trans people have given their gender a lot of thought. Perhaps you could start to consider that gender is a socially constructed idea that you’ve been conditioned to perform, starting at birth.
Queer your place of employment by taking a look at who is being left out and ask why. Is your office ready to accommodate a disabled person? What about a non-binary person? Inquire about gender neutral bathrooms so that if a trans person walks in they’d feel more welcome.
Queer your mind by educating yourself on the intersections of marginalized identities. Not all are treated equal. Awareness is a great first step (check out examples of what intersectionality in the queer community looks like here: https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/12/lgbtqia-fails-at-intersectionality/).
Queer your assumptions and biases about people. Admit to yourself that you have a perception. It’s ok – it’s human nature. It’s not ok to treat people less than because of those assumptions. And when you do make this mistake, make amends and vow to yourself to do better next time.
For those of us that feel like we don’t fit into the queer box – well, in it’s nature- that’s pretty freakin’ queer. It’s perfectly ok to own your queerness. Your privilege of how you’re perceived doesn’t make you any less queer – it just makes you a privileged queer. And as long as you’re holding those two alongside each other, well then, queer it up.
About the author: Lyndsey Lyons, MA, is a psychotherapist at the Love, Sex and Gender Center in Boulder, CO. She provides culturally sensitive, sex-positive therapy to couple’s and individuals. She graduated from Naropa University and holds an Master’s Degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy and Buddhist Psychology. Her Philosophy is that sex is a portal to some of the deepest parts of our soul. She does not believe sex therapy is an isolated service, but a big piece of the whole.